If you are in any way involved in communication, especially science communication, this book is a must read. Rarely do I finish a book and like it so much, that I reread it almost immediately. I did this one.
Everyone can become a more memorable and effective speaker because there is really just one big secret to being a memorable speaker — knowing how and when to use the figures of speech, especially metaphor, antithesis, and the various types of repetition.
Of course a great speaker like Bill Clinton is a master of the figures. In his 1996 acceptance speech, he created an optimistic metaphor for his second term: “We need to build a bridge to the future…. So tonight let us resolve to build that bridge to the twenty-first century.” He repeated the bridge metaphor in various forms two dozen times.
In his Wednesday night speech for Obama, widely considered the best speech of both conventions, Clinton repeated the word “arithmetic” six times to drive home his point that the Republican budget doesn’t add up. He had lines like:
I want to nominate a man who’s cool on the outside but who burns for America on the inside.
This is antithesis—placing words or ideas in contrast or opposition. It was one of Lincoln’s favorite figures, in unforgettable lines such as “the world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here” and “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”
Probably 90% of the lines in books of famous quotations make use of one or more of the figures. The two biggest sources of famous quotes – the King James Bible and the works of Shakespeare — were written by Elizabethans who learned more than 200 figures of speech in school. They called it “grammar school” for a reason. You learned Latin grammar to read Latin writers like Cicero and Virgil, especially to learn what they knew about the figures.
Research by social scientists and Madison Avenue has shown that the figures are indeed the key to being memorable and persuasive, as I discuss in my book, Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln and Lady Gaga. That’s why a major study of print ads found that three-fourths of ad headlines use figures of speech.
Obama’s most memorable speech was his keynote at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. It was a textbook in rhetoric: